Significant link between low levels of omega-3 and sleep difficulties, study finds

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid Sleep sleep disorder

Adults who had only been asleep for less than five hours had persistently lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA compared to those who had a normal sleep between seven and nine hours, a study has found

The study also found that more than two-thirds of US adults (68.3%) do not currently consume enough of the omega-3s in their daily diet to meet their nutritional needs but that there was no significant link between total omega-3 fatty acids levels in circulation and difficulty falling asleep or sleep disorders.

Pharmavite, the makers of Nature Made vitamins and supplements conducted the study analysing data from a previous survey of 1,314 adults aged 19 and older.

Improved sleep

Dr Susan Mitmesser, vice-president of science and technology at Pharmavite, said: “Sleep insufficiency is a key issue deepening the sleep crisis that currently impacts roughly 70 million Americans. While more research is needed to clarify causality and underlying mechanisms that link daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids to improved sleep, the results of this study add to a growing body of research that suggests omega-3 fatty acids have an even greater role in supporting human health than previously thought.”

For years, a number of studies​ have indicated that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, but recent research is identifying other areas of human health where omega-3s may play a beneficial role.

In 2021, a study​ conducted by Pharmavite and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, was the first to evaluate the relationship between depression and the levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in the circulatory system. Analysis of the data revealed that adults with higher omega-3 blood levels correlated with a lower risk of depression and for those with higher EPA levels, there was an association with a higher quality of life, including performing daily life tasks and getting along with people.

These latest findings published in Sleep Health​ add to the mounting evidence that points towards the broader impact Omega-3 fatty acids can have on human health including heart health, mental health and now sleep.

This is not the first time the link between sleep and a lack of omega-3 has been looked at. In 2014, a randomised placebo-controlled study​ by the University of Oxford suggested that higher levels of omega-3 DHA, the group of long-chain fatty acids found in algae and seafood, are associated with better sleep.

The impact on children

This study looked at the impact of a lack of omega-3 and sleep in children, to determine whether this could affect their learning.

It specifically looked at sleep patterns in 362 healthy seven to nine-year-old UK school children in relation to the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) found in fingerstick blood samples. Previous research has suggested links between poor sleep and low blood omega-3 LC-PUFA in infants and in children and adults with behaviour or learning difficulties but this was the first study to look at links between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children.

This study also found that higher blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 DHA (the main omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain) are significantly associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias and total sleep disturbance. It adds that higher ratios of DHA in relation to the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) are also associated with fewer sleep problems.

Source: Sleep Health​ 

First published:

'Association of omega-3 levels and sleep in US adults, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2012'

Authors: Rachel A. Murphy et al 

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